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Lecture, display explore Roman coins and their connection to emperors

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s second annual Thomas J. and Anne W. Sienkewicz Lecture on Roman Archaeology will tie into a Roman coin exhibit currently on display at the College.

Baylor University professor Nathan Elkins will deliver the talk at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Pattee Auditorium on the lower level of the College’s Center for Science and Business. Titled “The Significance of Images in the Reign of Nerva, 96-98 CE,” his talk is free and open to the public.

Because of his short reign, Nerva’s principate left little in the way of public building and monumental art. The most complete record of state-sanctioned art from his reign is the imperial coinage.

“But the coinage has been studied with the biases of later historical sources in mind and is commonly characterized as ‘hopeful’ or ‘apologetic,’” said Elkins, who is an associate professor of art history at Baylor. “State-sanctioned art did not operate this way; it always presented the emperor in a positive light. A reinterpretation of Nerva’s imperial coinage is thus in order and informs our understanding of political ideals and messages disseminated during his reign.”

Displayed near the lecture hall in the Mellinger Commons area of the Center for the Science and Business is Imperial Roman coinage from the collection of emeritus professor William Urban, who served the College for five decades, most recently as the Lee L. Morgan Professor of History and International Studies.

On display through Nov. 30, the collection provides a glimpse into emperors’ political and social goals. Portraits – almost exclusively profiles – were stylized and tell little beyond the age of the emperors. The versos, however, tell what the emperors wanted the populace to know: peace, prosperity, justice. The coins minted for the Roman army emphasized victory, pride and the sentiment “happy days are here again.”

The Sienkewicz Lecture series was created last year by an anonymous donor to honor longtime Monmouth classics professor Tom Sienkewicz and his wife, Anne.

Sienkewicz was Monmouth’s Minnie Billings Capron Chair of Classics from 1985-2017. During his first year on the faculty, he founded the Western Illinois Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, which has hosted scores of archaeological lectures on campus. From 2012-17, Sienkewicz served the Classical Association of the Middle West and South as its chief executive and financial officer.

Anne has been a loyal supporter of archaeology and over the years has hosted countless speakers.